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Innovation Culture Bulletin: Gamification at work

Work & Lifestyle

Gamifying work can have substantial benefits for employee morale, creativity and innovation, but how do we efficiently and effectively introduce gaming mechanisms to the office?

An unlikely example of successful workplace gamification comes from the UK’s biggest public service department, The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Named Idea Street, the initiative encouraged proposals of new ideas from any employee within its hundreds of thousands strong workforce. To participate, employees submit ideas, which are turned into virtual stocks in a department-wide market. Other employees can then “invest” in ideas they think will become successful, expressing their wish to collaborate on them, and the DWP will “buy” the best options, or the ones with the most value on the market.

The scheme transformed the age-old suggestions box by gamifying it and updating it for today’s digitized workplace. Within the first 18 months, 4,500 workers participated, and 63 out of 1400 ideas generated were implemented. There are some fundamental factors that made this, and other examples of workplace gamification successful.

First, there is an innate human desire for play, and that is the reason why game mechanisms are effective tools for education and training. As Gabe Zichermann explained at his TEDx talk, challenge achievement — an essential building block for any good game — produces dopamine, so the more workers go through the “challenge/dopamine” cycle, the more they want to do it.

Second, games are social. Collaboration and team work enables employees to come together, using their different strengths, and achieve something more than what they could accomplish on their own. It is often said that innovation comes from tiny steps of progress, from generations and teams of individuals, rather than one lone genius.

It is difficult to get gamification right — some managers will no doubt be concerned with the distracting nature of games, and too much competitiveness can have a negative effect on employee morale. That’s why our Innovation Culture Bulletin Five this month offers tips to make gamification work best in your office.

1. Breaking down complex tasks into achievable goals. In games, each time a player completes a challenge, they level up and get closer to the finish line. Similarly, managers can break down bigger projects into actionable tasks, and reward employees at the end of each challenge. 3D design company Autodesk overcame a common problem faced by their users with this model. The complexity of their program was hindering customers from purchasing the product, so they introduced a game that has players completing individual 3D modeling maneuvers one by one.

2. Fail fast and practice perseverance. When Mario drives over a banana and his cart gets overturned, players start again with just a few seconds of race time lost. In the same way, an easy failure ethos in the office is crucial, because learning from mistakes is one of the most important factors for progress. What’s more, armed with the knowledge that failing is accepted — or better, encouraged — employees will feel more comfortable taking risks and trying out new ideas. Encouraging patience and perseverance will also motivate employees to try again and again and not give up on the problem.

3. Elevating repetitive work. Springwise-featured EvaluAgent and Jodone are two great examples of gamification elevating work of repetitive nature. The former makes call center work into a points-based game, while the latter has workers sorting recycling with a robotic arm. Could an office-wide initiative reward the employee who answers the most emails each day?

4. Setting limits. Most of the best games have rules and constraints, and being creative around those set rules is what makes it fun. Our Innovation Culture Bulletin on limitations explains how things like working in another language can help you with creative thinking.

5. Harness the crowd. We wrote about Cancer Research UK’s game, which harnesses the power of the crowd by getting players to assist scientists in a game with cancer data embedded in fun challenges. Use games to tap into the new ideas that may be lost in big corporations like the DWP; introduce a portal or platform to encourage easy sharing of innovative ideas.

As always, we’re sharing office-friendly sounds with you via Spotify. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to share any successful gamfication initiatives from your company.